Powered Up


As Singapore gears up to host the first in-person Asia TV Forum since 2019, Mansha Daswani checks in with several leading distributors about what’s driving their businesses in the region.

It’s been a long three years since the content community convened in Singapore for the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF). And according to RX Singapore, there’s plenty of pent-up demand for a market focused on this still-growing region. While the recessionary fears plaguing the rest of the world certainly have media execs in Asia concerned, the top-line news is that the streaming sector is still expanding, pay TV isn’t dead, and free-to-air broadcasters are winning audiences with top-notch, locally resonant content.

The most significant evolution since the last in-person ATF is, of course, the dramatic ramp-up in the streaming wars, with Disney+, Netflix and Prime Video, among others, looking to grow their Asian subscriber bases as they hit maturity in most other parts of the world. At the same time, local and regional players continue to see usage gains.

“In Asia, where local content is the key driver for all channels and platforms, competition means that buyers will be more creative and open to finding new content to resonate with their audiences,” says Augustus Dulgaro, executive VP of distribution for the Asia Pacific at ITV Studios. “It’s worth remembering that almost every partner is, in effect, a streamer, as they pivot to a content anytime, anywhere strategy to meet the demands of audiences with their own catch-up, SVOD and AVOD offerings. Given the depth and breadth of ITV’s slate and business, we have the privilege of working with most clients in the region and are well-placed to respond to the needs of the marketplace as it has changed and morphed over the last few years—and will in the future.”

Ganesh Rajaram, general manager and executive VP for Asia at Fremantle, reports that the gains in the streaming sector have boosted the company’s business in the region, particularly for its scripted slate. “A few years ago, before the big streamers landed in Asia, the scripted market was primarily dominated by English scripted content. The global streamers brought multi-language, multicultural offerings from many different countries to Asia. This helped create a voracious appetite for high-quality scripted content, regardless of where it came from.”

The rapid proliferation of OTT platforms “has become a big opportunity for us to expand our distribution, and we have changed our strategy accordingly,” observes Keisuke Miyata, head of sales in the international business development unit at Japanese media giant Nippon TV. “Some of our popular shows have sold as finished content to major streamers over the last 12-plus months, such as Old Enough! and multiple hit drama series to Netflix, as well as our hit anime series The Files of Young Kindaichi to Disney+. The anime genre is also a huge driving force in the streaming business. We have many deals with Southeast Asian platforms to license/sublicense and distribute our ever-popular anime series such as HUNTER X HUNTER and DEATH NOTE.”

The intensely competitive OTT sector in India has turned that market into one of All3Media International’s best territories for scripted-format adaptations, reports Sabrina Duguet, the company’s executive VP for the region. And the company’s drama business is growing fast across AsiaPac, Duguet notes, powered in part by the emergence of new players.

“They’re setting up in Asia, they need local content, and then they say, now we can diversify,” Duguet explains. “On the scripted side, Japan is still one of our strongest territories. They love crime, detective, investigation and British—as you know, most of the catalog is that! It’s a very reliable market. We probably had our best year last year in Korea in scripted. The All3Media International slate becoming broader and bigger budget, and VOD platforms needing to compete, diversify and do something a little different have given us great results.”

And it’s not just British and European drama resonating across AsiaPac, distributors note.

Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, India and Malaysia are among the best markets for Turkish series, according to Müge Akar, the head of sales for Europe, Asia and Africa at ATV. “We are also targeting certain new regions due to the popularity of Turkish dramas. We are willing to include more territories with the new markets we are heading to.”

Akar continues, “We have licensed our most-watched dramas—The Ottoman, For My Family, Destan, Maria and Mustafa and Between Us—to Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we are continuously adding more series to our catalog overseas. We also aim to reach out to Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.”

Akar observes that audiences are responding to Turkish drama themes that are “unique, universal and can demonstrate the world’s sincerity of life. We became thrilled when we noticed Turkish dramas’ immense popularity and fan base throughout Asia.”

Drama produced across the region is also traveling well. “With the battle for eyeballs in Asia, we have started receiving interest for simulcast releases from regional OTT players,” comments Wincess Lee Gonzalez, sales head for Asia, Latin America and OTT at ABS-CBN Corporation in the Philippines. “We already actively do this with our OTT clients for their Philippines feed, offering simulcast or even up to 72 hours before TV airing. We hope this would be a natural progression for the efforts we have been putting into promoting Filipino content to the region and the world.”

Drama is driving ABS-CBN’s AsiaPac business, notably romance and family series. “Interestingly, even traditional linear clients are now looking for shorter dramas—20 episodes to about a max of 60 episodes—whereas before, the longer, the better it was for them,” she continues. “Global, especially regional players, continue to need local content to capture the market, aside from originals that are being commissioned more and more now. We sell a lot to the local players too, with movies also a special focus for them. Our film library is big—we offer commercial films, restored classics and even indies that have made their mark in international film festivals.”

At GMA Network, “family and romance dramas travel well within the region as cultures in Asia have many similarities,” agrees Roxanne J. Barcelona, VP of the Worldwide Division. Barcelona adds that India, Thailand, China and Japan present the greatest new opportunities for GMA Network content across AsiaPac.

Nippon TV’s Miyata explains that Japanese scripted content is also traveling well, thanks partly to the proliferating OTT landscape. “The strategy by the streamers to exclusively acquire new, competitive and subscription-driving content will continue. An example would be our latest series Love with a Case, by the scriptwriter Yuji Sakamoto (Mother, Woman –My Life for My Children—). Before the show started airing on Nippon TV, the streaming rights were sold widely across Asia, including South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and it ranked number one in Taiwan.”

Thanks to its successful scripted-formats business, All3Media International is steadily building a slate of Asian dramas to distribute, including Masoom, the Indian version of the Irish drama Blood produced for Disney+ Hotstar. “We’re thrilled to see this premium adaptation proving a ratings and award-winning success in India,” Duguet explains. “We’ve started having some offers on this Indian remake of our format. It’s great that the format and the local version travel.”

All3Media International has also clinched its first scripted-format deal in Malaysia, with Double Vision adapting the hit U.K. series Liar.

The non-scripted format business across AsiaPac is also faring well for a raft of distributors, All3Media International included, with Duguet highlighting India as a key new territory in this space.

“For formats, we’ve seen a renaissance of our evergreen game-show titles like Family Feud and The Price is Right across Asia,” adds Rajaram at Fremantle. “Clients across the region are renewing hundreds of episodes almost quarterly because of the tremendous success they are having with these titles.”

Rajaram adds, “With more markets opening up post-Covid, we’d like to see even more format productions sprout across the region. Another area is scripted formats—we are beginning to see a lot of interest in markets like China and Korea to make local versions of some of our hit dramas, and we hope to make a few of these versions in 2023.”

Dulgaro at ITV Studios is also bullish on the prospects of driving more scripted-format deals in Asia, particularly from India and South Korea. “ITV Studios has recently partnered with JTBC/Studio LuluLala on a South Korean version of Cleaning Up as well as with BBC Studios [and] Applause Entertainment on an Indian version of 35 Days.”

Nippon TV is also focusing on both non-scripted and scripted format sales, Miyata says. “Having the IP to shows leads to format sales for local adaptations. One recent example of this would be Old Enough!, which has been a hit show on Nippon TV for over 30 years. The series has also sold well as a finished program and has been adapted as an unscripted format in many international countries such as Italy, the U.K., Vietnam, China and Singapore.”

Other sectors of the content business are also receiving a boost thanks to the streaming wars, including high-quality factual fare. “Streamers certainly are an ever-growing part of our sales strategy in the region, and last year was a very positive one in this respect,” says Robert Bassett, senior sales manager at Passion Distribution. “Several of our shows found a local home, such as Drag Race Philippines landing on discovery+/HBO GO locally while the show launched on global streamer WOW Presents Plus.”

Specialist factual, including science, engineering and history, is doing particularly well, Bassett says, highlighting the ATF launch of Dinosaur with Stephen Fry. As far as key territories, meanwhile, “India is a market where we have been very successful in the past, including bringing the format Idiotest to StarPlus; however, it was an area that struggled during the pandemic, so we are keen to work on some new projects,” Bassett continues. “We are already in a number of exciting discussions and expect 2023 to be a very productive one in this territory.”

Kids’ content also continues to be sought after by both legacy and new players alike.

“With global players expanding their presence in the region and local players emerging, there have been more opportunities to expand the distribution of our franchise shows like Peppa Pig, Transformers: EarthSpark and the My Little Pony brand to much wider audiences,” says Monica Candiani, executive VP of content sales at Entertainment One (eOne) Family Brands.

Per Candiani, eOne Family Brands is focusing on new and returning opportunities across the region. Still, markets like India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand “are top of mind for our sales team” at present.

According to Pauline Berard, international sales executive at Cyber Group Studios, the French animation production and distribution outfit has been steadily building its AsiaPac business across both distribution and co-production.

“In February 2022, we announced our partnership with Scrawl Animation. Our first common project is Alex Player—a co-production between Cyber Group Studios, Scrawl Animation and the Italian-based studio Graphilm Entertainment—that will take you into the world of esports competition,” Berard explains.

At Annecy last year, Cyber Group Studios unveiled a pact with Nippon Animation to release the feature-length title Nanami and the Quest for Atlantis, which will be followed by a brand-new animated series based on the classic 1994 anime Tico and Friends.

Looking ahead, Indonesia is an important market for Cyber Group Studios, Berard explains. “In June, Cyber Group Studios organized an off-site trip reuniting all the teams from France, the U.S., Italy, the U.K. and Singapore. That’s when, following a conversation with Choon Meng Seng, CEO of Scrawl Animation, our Singapore-based sister company, the idea came up to focus on the strategy for one particular territory every six months. We decided to start with Indonesia. So, we come to ATF to meet as many Indonesian companies as possible and explore our opportunities with them.”

While the consensus among the distributors surveyed here is that ATF will be a busy, thriving market, macroeconomic issues are a concern as broadcasters and platforms alike prepare for a squeeze on advertising and subscription revenues. Are buyers becoming more risk-averse in this climate?

“Yes and no,” says Dulgaro at ITV Studios. “Our buyers have always been discerning. Of course, buyers are looking for IP that will work for their existing audiences, but they’re always looking for something left-field that will expand their audience and grow their reach. It’s worth remembering that buyers are now buying across many routes to market, and not all of them have the same demographic. ITV Studios has seen this with Love Island, a brand that works perfectly well in a linear environment but explodes in key demos in the on-demand space. Audiences also need to be surprised, and buyers are looking for new and different content that will pop in the schedule and on an on-demand carousel.”

Rajaram at Fremantle observes that “clients are being more cautious because of fiscal concerns, but at the same time, coming out of Covid lockdowns after almost three years is also fueling cautious optimism. And for us, given our tried and trusted brands, we are still seeing healthy demand for favorites like Got Talent and Idol and the newer titles.”

Rajaram adds, “Locally, the local linear players are beginning to be more aggressive because quite a few of the pan-regional pay-TV giants have either been absorbed by the new global streaming entities or have gone into a standstill period while determining launch plans. This has allowed local linear players to get first-run titles, and they are going for it.”

Barcelona says clients have primarily been “consistent in their acquisition of GMA content despite worldwide economic concerns. Although some complain about reduced budgets, corporate shakeups and changes in their programming, content is still king. Our clients are now more conservative when they buy, and they make sure that whatever is acquired is consumed quickly.”

Some markets are being harder hit than others, ABS-CBN’s Lee Gonzalez notes. “Some have picked up their acquisitions for this year and next, while a few have pushed back their launches due to a slowdown in advertising.”

“With broadcasters and platforms keeping a close eye on their acquisitions budgets, buyers have tended to lean on well-established shows,” says Candiani at eOne. “We’re proud we can offer iconic franchises like Peppa and Transformers that already have great market visibility and can help attract and retain viewers.”

Passion’s Bassett reports that the global cost of living crisis is on the minds of everyone in the media business; “however, I think clients realize that viewers’ access to quality content could be more important than ever. With this in mind, we are not seeing a significant change in buyers’ appetites, and I think their attendance at ATF would attest to this.”           ­